Is Help a 4 Letter Word?

Growing up and well into adulthood, “How do I make it happen??”, was the question I asked myself most often.  I was raised and also had an inclination to be independent, resourceful and high achieving.  Bars were not set low in my family, and I not only accepted that life view but took it to […]

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Growing up and well into adulthood, “How do I make it happen??”, was the question I asked myself most often.  I was raised and also had an inclination to be independent, resourceful and high achieving.  Bars were not set low in my family, and I not only accepted that life view but took it to a higher level because (for whatever reason) what was good enough for others, had to be broken apart and reimagined by me.  Not me and others like me, but me alone.  If I couldn’t achieve, create, or solve something by myself, then it wasn’t worth attempting.  It was the tree falling in the forest analogy playing out in my life continuously.  If I didn’t do it all by myself, then do I really deserve any credit for it at all? 

Decades later, David Whyte’s words of wisdom helped me understand the belief that I should be figuring things out entirely on my own, is not unique to me. “Help is strangely something we want to do without, as if the very idea disturbs, and blurs the boundaries of our individual endeavors as if we cannot face how much we need in order to go on,” Whyte shares. 

The belief that anything worth doing must largely be done alone, had me experiencing a tsunami of self-doubt, confusion, and emotional upheaval in my 40’s.  When I would ask myself the reliable question, “How do I make it happen?”, all I heard back in return was silence.  Sometimes, I’d hear mean, judgemental voices, but most often, I’d hear silence. 

It took me a while to understand that I was asking the wrong question.  Reading Marshall Goldsmith’s book, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”, allowed me to gain the insight that what might have worked so far, not only no longer serves me, but is actually getting in the way of future self-growth and fulfillment.  “But it worked so well, for so long!  Why do you want to mess with a good thing?” my mind would whine.  But the truth is that we only have to look at our results to understand whether a behavior is working or not.  My results were no longer stellar, and even if they matched everyone else’s description of success, I felt confused, disappointed, and exhausted. 

Today, I have these conversations with young adults I’m fortunate to coach.  They are experiencing what has widely come to be known as a “Quarter-Life Crisis”.  What many of us experience in our 40’s and 50’s, they are challenged by in their 20’s.  In their case, they also have to carry the load of worried and concerned parents.  Everyone wonders if they’ve done something wrong. Parents question years of committed, loving, and focused parenting, while their high achieving young adult who is used to exceeding self and others’ expectations, is questioning his/her own abilities, skills, dreams…..really, everything!

There are many tactical and strategic ways to help make this moment a win for our Millennials, and those of us who feel alone and somehow broken because we can’t figure out “the answer”.  But before unpacking strategies, we have to start with a shift in our mindset, and the best way to start that journey is by asking the right question. “How do I make it happen” may have gotten us here, but it won’t get us there.  The most helpful question now may be, “Who do I need to talk to?”  

Shane Parrish puts it insightfully in his book, “The Great Mental Models”: “The biggest barrier to learning from contact with reality is ourselves.  It’s hard to understand a system that we are part of because we have blind spots, where we can’t see what we aren’t looking for, and don’t notice what we don’t notice.”

As a Professional Coach, this is what I know to be true for sure.  Not much happens when we work in isolation, however, with the right partners, anything is possible.

How would your life change, and what might be possible for you, if every time you face a question, challenge, and desire, you ask, “Who do I need to talk to?”.  In my experience, a professional mentor, therapist, counselor or coach is a better choice to help us than our friends and family. A professional, ideally, has no agenda other than supporting you to gain clarity and take steps to achieve your unique goals.  Our friends and family, loving and trustworthy as they are, cannot help but bring their own history and beliefs into the conversation.

However, the first and most fundamental step is the shift to understanding that you are not alone and are not expected to solve everything by yourself.  In Whyte’s words, “……to ask for the right kind of help and to feel that it is no less than our due – that in effect, we deserve both a visible and an invisible helping hand – may be an engine of transformation itself.”

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